The Fire lost an opportunity to gain ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race with yet another late-game shocker at Toyota Park. This time it wasn’t a missed penalty kick or a late goal resulting from a lost mark that caused two more points to be flushed down the proverbial toilet. This time the culprit was an erroneous penalty kick award in the 90th minute courtesy of referee Geoff Gamble.
Before that fateful last minute call, the Fire had numerous chances to put the contest away however. Wasted chances against a Philadelphia team that created very few opportunities of their own magnifies what occurred in the waning moments of the match but shouldn’t be overlooked. Putting teams away at home has clearly been a problem all season and this was no different, blown call or not.
The Fire are now 1-2-6 on the season at Toyota Park and well on their way to shattering the MLS record for draws in a season. A record they established (along with NYRB) in 2011. They’re only five draws away from equaling that.
Geoff Gamble may have blown a call in the most unfortunate of situations but the Fire didn’t put another foe away at home when there were clear opportunities to do so. Missed penalties, late goals, and bad calls pile up when things go bad. What should have been a second consecutive clean sheet and a move into contention with the rest of the pack for a playoff spot turned into another bout of frustration. This time there’s an obvious object of derision that was out of the team’s control but the Fire continue to place themselves in these situations.
GK Sean Johnson (6) – Just missed providing PK heroics when he guessed right on LeToux’s spot kick, unfortunately he couldn’t get to this one. The Union only had two shots on target in the match but there was a shaky moment or two.
D Gonzalo Segares (6) – Whistled for an infraction in the box for a second consecutive week but there’s no doubt this one wasn’t deserving of a whistle. Battled LeToux throughout the match and challenged just about everything he could. Watch his post game comments about the penalty call and what he'd like to see happen to Gamble right here.
D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (6) – The center back pairing performed admirably, limiting Conor Casey to very few touches as the Union played in cross after cross trying to find their target man. The key to stopping Philadelphia is limiting Casey and Hurtado did that throughout the entire match.
D Bakary Soumare (6) – Both he and Hurtado shadowed Casey in the penalty area. Defense played well collectively, particularly in the first half when a string of corner kick chances were cleared with no danger. A second consecutive strong outing for Soumare.
D Lovel Palmer (6) – The Fire’s backline should have registered a second consecutive clean sheet. Palmer was very active again. Took a chance on goal in the 58th but his long distance attempt was right at MacMath.
M Jeff Larentowicz (6) – Scored the Fire’s lone goal in the 60th when he headed in Shipp’s corner kick service. Just missed scoring in the 37th on an almost identical play but his shot sailed just high. The Fire won the possession battle in the first half (53-47) but the second was reversed (60-40) as Phiadelphia looked to equalize. Solid match for Larentowicz.
M Matt Watson (5) – Yallop praised his performance in the post game press conference but he was much better in the first half than he was in the second. Managed to find some room to make runs getting forward although nothing connected. The problem with Watson getting forward is that it dropped Magee even further back in order to cover for him. Razdan Cocis will surely get a chance when he’s ready because the Fire really have little creativity and nothing more than workmanlike support from this spot on the field.
M Harry Shipp (6) – Landed his fifth assist of the season on Larentowicz’s goal. Corner kick service was better after a small dip over the last few matches. Shipp does like to roam which forces the center mids to drop back and cover limiting what little they can provide offensively. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic works with Cocis.
M Alex (5) – There was some good work in combination but the issues came when the ball was back at his feet. Dribbled himself out of chances by either waiting too long to make a pass in the final third or trying to make one move too many. Mishit a volley attempt in the 87th with a clear look on goal after a corner kick.
F Mike Magee (5) – Spent much of the first half dropping back deep into midfield. Stopped a dangerous attack in the 39th minute when he turned to complain about a hand ball while the play was ongoing. The Fire need Magee focused and much closer to goal than he has been. If Magee is dropping back to cover for a charging Watson, there should be little wonder why chances aren’t being finished.
F Quincy Amarikwa (5) – Like Alex, he dribbled himself out of a handful of good opportunities by trying to do too much. The effort was there as always but the vision was not.
M Grant Ward (5) – Entered the match in the 74th for Shipp. A nice move to beat two defenders resulted in a free kick chance in the 84th. Magee’s free kick sailed off to nowhere.
F Matt Fondy (5) – Subbed in for Amarikwa in the 78th. Flubbed an attempt to shoot when a loose ball found its way to him in the 86th for a good chance. Made an impressive move to free himself for a chance in the 88th but waited much too long and MacMath thwarted him before he could see a wide open Alex in the 88th.
Every match should be approached as a must win. There can be no satisfaction in road draws, particularly against struggling teams like the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday night in California. Frank Yallop’s former team is at the bottom of the Western Conference table.